Monday, February 28, 2011

Prefectship: Is it worth it?

Those of you who subscribe to the Sunday morning rag sheet would've have seen the good name of my Alma Mater being dragged through the mud. With it, the shadowy world of prefects and the ragging that they receive as the initiation ritual have come to light.

No right to hurt your brother

I am lucky enough to attend one of the few institutes of higher education in Sri Lanka where ragging is unheard of. When it is so, a new student feels freedom and belonging and a sense of security in his new environment. This is in stark contrast to what some of my friends have had to go through at some of our universities. Ragging, therefore, is a hurtful and vicious activity that should be eliminated.

As schoolchildren, our teachers would make it a point to disciplinary action against children who bully the other kids in the class. Therefore, isn't it a logical extension of that principle to view ragging as a systematic, and extreme form of bullying? And therefore, isn't it logical that the students who have been guilty of bringing upon their fellow students mental and physical harm be subjected to the most severe punishment that the College can hand them: expulsion?

Prison-guard mentality 

Out of the 17 prefects who got suspended, I knew quite well a few. I knew a few of the victims as well. They were among the smartest, most talented (through sports, aesthetics, debating, etc.) and most level headed people I knew. These are kids who would go to debates and make the audience cry about how humiliating and painful ragging is. These were well rounded junior citizens, on their way to take on the world (at some of the most prestigious universities the world over).

So what gives? What turns a non-violent, smart, level-headed kid into a thug who abuses kids (most of whom he has known for years). And what allows this kind of abuse to go on for years without the abused speaking out against it?

There was a very interesting experiment done in the Stanford University in 1971.  Termed the 'Stanford prison experiment', it took 24 undergraduates and assigned them roles as 'prison guards' and 'prisoners'. The outcome of the whole experiment was astounding. The 'prisoner guards' adapted to their roles so well that they began being authoritarian and torturing the 'prisoners'. And the 'prisoners' adapted so well that they would take that abuse as if they deserved it and generally behaved in a subjugated manner. I highly recommend that you read that entire article, because it certainly blew my mind away.

So, giving kids who are in the cusp of adulthood and responsibility a 'prison guard' role, are we endangering theirs and their subjects' futures? Are we bringing up a generation of 'prisoners' who think that they deserve the abuse they get? Are we telling kids that it's okay to be authoritarian and abusive, if you're in a position of power?

Is the tradition of 'Prefectship' worth all of this?